Pronounced Chi Gung, and adequately translated “energy exercise”, this is the Chinese art and science of health and longevity. It is a huge field with hundreds of styles and thousands of exercises, all designed to give you more vitality, vibrancy, and a heightened sense of being alive.
In general there are two categories: the Water and Fire methods.
The Fire & Water Methods
The Water, or Yin methods are the original ways, characterized by softness, relaxation, pliability, removal of constrictions, etc., to permit the free flow of energy in the body and mind. The Fire, or Yang methods came later, and are characterized by the buildup of energy and heat, to be used for warming the body, burning through restrictions, releasing explosively during fighting, etc.
The Fire methods are inherently more dangerous, and the Water more safe. My main experience is in the Water practices so that is largely what I deal with here.
Applications of Qi Gong
There are five main APPLICATIONS of CHI GUNG, or how you use the energy you gain.
- Your own health
- Healing of others
- Martial Arts, the opposite of Healing.
- Practices for couples, to enhance sexuality.
- Practices to address the rigors of meditation.
Basic Principles of Qi Gong
Regardless of what set of exercises one learns, there are a few basics which make them all work. The core principles are almost more important than the specific exercises. There is a feedback loop where the exercises are meant to teach the basics, which once learned can be used to enhance the exercises and invent others.
Essential to the basics is the principle of PHYSICALITY: All practices, even meditation, begin and continue in the physical body, your home as it were. This is in contrast to other paths of development which begin say, in the heart or the mind. The route to the body is the kinesthetic, or feeling sense (vs. visualization). You use your mind to feel what is happening in your body.
In approximate order of importance here are the basic ideas:
1. DISSOLVING This is the heart and soul of the Water methods. One can think of it as the deepest possible relaxation of the body and mind. There is no physical movement per se in this practice, rather it involves using the mind to feel in the body for tension, constrictions, strength, or whatever doesn’t seem right, and then using the mind to soften, dissolve, dissipate, evaporate, disperse, these constrictions. This will enable the energy to flow more freely. While this practice is easier said than done, it is an acquired skill, and you will benefit greatly even if you can only dissolve a small percentage of the tension in your body. Generally, dissolving is done as a standing practice, but eventually it will become incorporated into sitting, lying down, and all moving practices. “Stillness in motion” is one of the descriptive phrases.
2. EXPANSION The primary effect of injury, stress, illness, and aging, is constriction and shrinkage. As the body shrinks the fluid flows are compromised and health problems are created or exacerbated. To restore health, one must restore space to the inner recesses of the body, in the joints, spine, fascia, organs, and even blood vessels. Simple stretching of the musculature and tendons is insufficient. Opening the inner body has to be done slowly, carefully, specifically, and with lots of dissolving, to avoid injury.
3. PULSING The other half of expansion is contraction and together they constitute pulsing. All life as we know it pulsates in multiple amplitudes and frequencies all the time, from the sub-atomic particles to the galaxies. The human body has many rhythms in the joints, spine and organs, which can be compromised by stress and injury. Although involuntary processes, they can be brought under voluntary control with a little effort. The aim is to restore and maintain the body’s natural pulsations to a state of fullness and balance.
4. ALIGNMENTS Proper physical alignments are important for several reasons: for efficiency and ease of motion, to avoid injury, and to set the stage for increased energy flow. Simply by aligning the body with gravity you can save a lot of energy otherwise spent fighting it. When you are learning to feel and direct your energy, these alignments are essential. Often minute changes in them results in dramatic increases in energy flow.
5. ABSORBING You can either unwittingly or purposely absorb the energy from the life and environment around you. We know this intuitively when we avoid certain places, situations and people, and seek out others. One of the Chi Gung arts is that of taking in the energy of the ocean, the earth, fire, the moon, the sun, etc. and utilizing it for your own health. You can use Pulsing to absorb energy, especially by contracting to pull in, but also by expanding and creating the space for it.
6. GROUNDING Our physical bodies and the earth are of the same substance. Establishing and maintaining a root in the earth is important for several reasons: a) Physical balance and stability will improve. b) Sinking your energy into the earth will enable you to absorb it’s limitless energy. c) Energy practices can have the side effect of you getting lost in the ozone, and losing touch with any signs of physical danger. Grounding is the key to staying in touch with the body. In this regard Taoism differs from say, some Hindu practices, where the body is allowed to waste away.
7. BALANCE Physical balance is a good place to begin understanding this principle. Stretching and Pulsing are other places, e.g. what’s too open and what’s too closed? All Taoist thought is concerned with balancing excesses and deficiencies, physical and energetic, yin and yang, etc., etc. The goal is not to achieve stasis, but to smoothly transition from one phase to another in exercise and in every day life, and still keep an internal stillness.